A longitudinal analysis of joint attention and language development in young children with autism spectrum disorders

Date of Completion

January 2010


Language, Linguistics|Psychology, Developmental




Joint attention (JA), which occurs when two individuals focus on the same object or event, plays a critical role in social and language development. Two major kinds of joint attention have been observed: response to joint attention (RJA), in which children follow the attentional focus of their social partners, and initiation of joint attention (IJA), in which children direct their social partners' attention to an object or event. Impairment in joint attention is an early sign of autism, and may contribute to difficulties in later social and language development. In this study, the growth trajectories of JA and language were tracked in three groups of toddlers over the course of one year: typically developing children (TD), high-functioning children with autism (HFA), and low-functioning children with autism (LFA). The participants were 18 TD toddlers (mean age = 20.6 months), eight HFA children (mean age = 30.21 months), and nine LFA children (mean age = 35.21 months). The TD and HFA children were matched on cognitive ability, expressive and receptive language at Visit 1. Children engaged in a 30-minute play session with their parents. Sessions were coded for the number of RJA and IJA, as well as spontaneous speech measures. Growth curves were conducted to measure the development of JA and language over time, which demonstrated that the increases in JA and language were steeper for TD children compared to both autism groups, who had flatter trajectories. Moreover, both RJA and IJA have been found to be related to later language development in TD children. ^